Friday PM November 10th, 2006

Genentech purchasing Houston-based Tanox...Andy Fastow to serve his six year term in Louisiana...Exxon Mobil Chemical plans expansion of rubber-making operations in Baytown...

Genentech is buying Houston-based Tanox in a $919 million deal. Tanox joined forces with Genentech in 1996 to develop an asthma drug called Xolair, and is developing another drug based on recent advances in understanding an eye disease called macular degeneration. Genentech is also developing drugs for other forms of the eye disease. Shares of Tanox jumped 44 percent with the news.

Former Enron financial whiz Andrew Fastow will serve his six-year term at a federal minimum-security prison in Louisiana. The 44-year-old former Enron finance chief had asked to be assigned to a federal prison in Bastrop, about 30 miles southeast of Austin. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt made that recommendation when he sentenced Fastow in September. But the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which makes the final decision on where inmates are sent, assigned Fastow to the federal detention center in Oakdale, Louisiana. That's about 200 miles northeast of Houston. The detention center is part of a prison complex that includes a low-security correctional institution and a satellite prison camp that houses minimum-security male inmates. The entire prison complex has about 2,400 inmates. Fastow had agreed to serve a maximum ten-year term when he pleaded guilty in 2004. He also cooperated with prosecutors in other cases related to Enron's 2001 bankruptcy. Hoyt cited his cooperation and show of remorse in sentencing him instead to six years in prison. He said Fastow had already paid a heavy price for his actions. Before being sent to Louisiana, Fastow also gave a deposition in a class-action lawsuit filed by investors suing investment firms and global banks they claim played key roles in Enron's collapse.

Six workers fired from their jobs at BP's Texas City refinery after a deadly 2005 explosion have settled their libel suits against the London-based oil company. They'd each alleged that BP defamed them by blaming them for the accident. The six were involved in restarting, after a month-long outage, the unit that exploded on March 23, 2005. Fifteen contract workers were killed and more than 170 were injured. The announcement comes after a settlement was reach in a lawsuit filed against BP by the daughter of two workers killed in the explosion. The amount of the settlement in Eva Rowe's case isn't being disclosed, but she's donated more than $30 million to various medical and industrial safety organizations. BP has settled the other fatality cases, and has reached agreements on hundreds of lawsuits. It's put aside $1.6 billion to resolve legal disputes related to the explosion.

Houston-based Exxon Mobil Chemical is planning an expansion of its rubber-making operations in Baytown. The company hopes to boost capacity by 60 percent by modifying existing equipment and adding new machinery. The project is to be completed by the second quarter of 2008.

The United Steelworkers Union and Goodyear are confirming that they plan to return to the bargaining table on Tuesday in Cincinnati. The two sides will try to resolve a strike by more than 1,200 workers that has spanned five weeks. The specific location in Cincinnati has not been disclosed. Goodyear has posted its latest contract offer online and is sticking with plans to close its tire plant in Tyler, eliminating 1,100 jobs. The steelworkers want the Tyler plant kept open.

Retail gasoline price trends in Texas remain mixed for a second week. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey released shows the price of regular, self-serve gasoline averaged $2.08 per gallon in Texas. That's down a penny. Houston's average is down just under a penny to $2.01 per gallon. The average price rose in three Texas metro areas and fell in eight others. The national retail price remained virtually unchanged at $2.21 per gallon. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says retail gasoline prices appear to be leveling off after three months of decreases. The cheapest gasoline in the Texas survey was in Corpus Christi, where it averages $2 per gallon. That's up a penny from last week. Austin-San Marcos has the most expensive gas, averaging $2.15 per gallon. That's down a penny.

Foreclosure activity is on the rise. RealtyTrac, a real-estate data firm, says more than 318,000 properties in the U.S. entered some stage of foreclosure in the third quarter. That's up 17 percent from the previous three-month period. The biggest rates of increase were found in the Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Denver-Aurora, Colorado metro areas. In Detroit, one of every 80 households had a property enter some stage of foreclosure; in Fort Lauderdale, it was one in every 88. On the other hand, Houston reported a 15 percent drop in foreclosures, and New York had a 13 percent decline. RealtyTrac says major factors in the increase include slower home sales and home appreciation rates. Another was adjustable-rate mortgages re-setting at higher monthly payments. That put a lot of homeowners in financial trouble.

Severe drought conditions that have lasted more than a year prompted Governor Rick Perry to ask the federal government for disaster relief assistance for 10 counties. The drought has caused about $4.1 billion in losses to the agricultural industry, according to estimates from the Governor's Office. If the Federal Farm Service Agency grants Perry's request, farmers in designated counties would be eligible for low-interest loans up to $500,000. The counties are Angelina, Falls, Freestone, Goliad, Limestone, Midland, Refugio, Shackelford, Shelby and Trinity.

China's politically sensitive trade surplus should soar to a record $150 billion this year. That would be nearly 50 percent above the 2005 level, according to government figures reported by a state news agency. The figures are the Chinese government's highest projection yet for the mounting trade gap, prompting strains with Washington and other trading partners. The U.S. and others demand that China open markets wider to imports and ease controls that they say keep its currency weak, giving its exporters an unfair price advantage.

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